Michael Sam being judged on sexuality, not skill

By Assistant Sports & Health Editor

When Michael Sam came out last February, it was heralded as a bold move for the athlete and called a triumph for equality in the NFL. Finally, the most masculine sport in the world could potentially have an openly gay player on the field.

NFL personnel, coaches and even the majority of its players seemingly accepted Sam’s sexuality. Some said they had no problem with a gay man in the NFL so long as he could play. Others pulled the old “I have gay friends and family members” card. Regardless, it seemed Sam would be in good shape wherever it was that he landed. 

Sam was undersized for his position, but so was Russell Wilson—the guy who just beat a future Hall of Fame quarterback in the Super Bowl. Surely there had to be some place for Sam, whether it be as a linebacker or a situational pass rusher. There had to be a spot for a player with such raw talent.

After all, Sam had a dominant senior season at University of Missouri. His team finished 12-2 and won the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 4. He was a first-team all-American and was named the Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year in the Southeastern Conference, widely considered the top league in college football. His teammates voted him Missouri’s most valuable player. Not to mention that at 6 feet, 2 inches and 256 pounds, Sam was no slouch. 

Fast-forward to the combine in February and suddenly the love affair was over. Why? Sam had to be perfect on the field in every drill, and he was not. No team was willing to accept the media circus that came along with the NFL’s first openly gay player unless he made absolutely no mistakes from the very first NFL workout he had, but he made mistakes and that was all it took.  

If Sam had been flawless at the combine, then coaches and scouts would have had absolutely no reasoning behind not drafting him other than their own homophobia. Once Sam’s combine workout went south, teams could simply point to that showing and claim he cannot hack it at the next level. Cue the plummeting draft stock.

However, CBS Sports did not need to wait for the combine to plummet Sam’s draft stock. When they came out with their initial draft rankings in February, Sam was No. 90 overall—slated for the third round. Days later when he came out as gay, CBS Sports dropped Sam 70 spots to No. 160 overall with almost no explanation. 

Apparently sexuality matters a great deal more than the stats Sam accumulated on his way to being name DPOY. Surely no gay man could possibly be taken that high in the draft because he was less valuable now. How much less valuable? About 70 spots and two rounds less valuable. In the eyes of the sports world, Sam was damaged goods, like an antique china plate with a chip in it.

Inevitably, the draft came and Sam fell all the way to the seventh round, pick No. 249 overall. When the St. Louis Rams took Sam, it was champagne and positivity all around in the 24 hours that followed his drafting. 

However, analysts were quick to point out that the Rams had the deepest and most talented defensive line in the NFL. Once again, Sam would have to be perfect to make the team. Sure, the NFL is home to a plethora of wife beaters, cheaters, dog killers and murderers, but a gay man, we can’t have that. Sure, all of the aforementioned criminals did their time—well, most of them did—and could not be further from perfection, but it does not matter. 

Gay men who want to be NFL players will be judged by impossible standards that none of their peers are. That is simply what happens to pioneers. Jackie Robinson faced much of the same adversity when he became the first black player in Major League Baseball history. 

Sam was the very last cut the Rams made in the preseason. Whatever their reasoning for cutting Sam, his performance had nothing to do with the decision. In four exhibition games, Sam recorded 11 tackles and 3 sacks, including a team-leading 6 tackles in the final preseason game.

Just past the midway point of Sam’s rookie season, he is not with a team and has yet to make an active NFL roster and may never play on a team again. 

While there will always be a strong denial that Sam’s sexuality has anything to do with how his NFL career has gone thus far, consider this: Since 2000, 73 different men have won the DPOY award in the five major football conferences. Of those, only four have come in lower in the NFL Draft than Sam, and they all went undrafted. Sam is the only DPOY to be taken in the seventh round. The three previous DPOY award winners taken just before Sam in the sixth round were all on active rosters for at least three years.  

So why is Sam not on an NFL roster? Simple—because he is a gay man and in a sport where one grown man smacking another grown man on his rear end is the ultimate sign of respect, there is simply too much homophobia to accept an openly gay player.